Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds resource website for returning citizens

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Project Reentry on August 6, 2018 to create a new website connecting formerly incarcerated citizens to resources in their communities.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Holly Wickham of Project Reentry with her grant funds.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Holly Wickham of Project Reentry with her grant funds.

Based out of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, Project Reentry is a relatively new program that offers a variety of supportive services for re-sentenced juvenile lifers in Michigan. Project Reentry’s clients were arrested as children and sentenced to life without parole, but became eligible for resentencing after a 2016 Supreme Court decision. Now they are being released back into society, never having lived as adults. Project Reentry collaborates with a team of public defenders, master’s-level social work interns, and community organizations, united by a shared mission to help incarcerated people successfully reenter Michigan communities.

Many Project Reentry clients have trouble using the internet to find and access services in their communities. Technology advanced rapidly while they were incarcerated, so many websites and devices are difficult for them to navigate and understand. Project Reentry is planning to build an easy-to-use website that connects incarcerated people to felony-friendly resources near them. Users will input their location and needs, and the website will generate a list of nearby organizations that can help. The descriptions of the organizations will include eligibility requirements, hours, a map view, what to bring, and other important information. Project Reentry is planning to pilot the new website in Washtenaw County and then expand it to all of Michigan.

To create the new website, Project Reentry is partnering with a member of the Detroit Community Technology Project, a Detroit organization that specializes in making technology more accessible and expanding digital literacy. Project Reentry’s $1,000 Awesome Foundation grant will be used to incentivize focus groups with re-entered citizens to learn how to best design the website to fit their unique needs. Since Project Reentry has social work interns continuously working at the project for college credit, the website will be updated, audited, and maintained at no cost.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

 

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds cleanup, healthy activities at recovery home

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Home of New Vision on July 1, 2018 to improve its New Recovery Residence for those recovering from addiction.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Jennifer Oprisiu of Home of New Vision with her grant money.

Home of New Vision is an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that offers a wide array of recovery treatment services and supports tailored to clients’ individual needs. The organization’s evidence-based practices assist individuals to achieve a full life of recovery. Home of New Vision staff are passionate about their mission to help people struggling with substance use disorders find a better way of life.

On June 21st, Home of New Vision celebrated an annual “Day of Action” with a multifaceted project intended to improve the lives of clients living in Home of New Vision’s New Recovery Residence in Ann Arbor. The event was hosted by Home of New Vision’s Sport, Lawn, and Garden Project committee, which aims to provide fun, rewarding, and healthy activities for those in recovery.

United Way members, volunteers, and other community members joined Home of New Vision staff and clients to implement the project. Together they fixed up the New Recovery Residence’s yard, installed a walking path, started a garden, and set up sports, lawn, and gardening activities for the clients. Activities now available to the clients range from playing football to gardening to weightlifting. Awesome Foundation funds were used to purchase mulch for the walking path, garden equipment, a dumpster to haul rubbish from the yard, and a shed to store sport, lawn, and garden equipment.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds kitchen classroom program

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to the SoulSeed Kitchen Connection program on June 3, 2018.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Vanessa Marr with her $1,000 grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Vanessa Marr with her $1,000 grant.

SoulSeed is an Ann Arbor-based mobile kitchen classroom dedicated to promoting community health through interactive plant-based nutrition education and mindful communication practice. To promote healthy eating in urban areas where residents have limited access to nutritious food, workshops are offered at little or no cost for groups of all ages. Though not exclusive, SoulSeed is intentional about working directly with communities of color, LGBTQ groups, older adults, and youth whose health is at risk due to food insecurity. Based on the needs and interests of the audience, facilitated discussion topics may include “Making Peace with Food: A Holistic Approach to Eating Disorders,” “Cultivating a Positive Body Image,” or “Table Talk: Creating Meaningful Connections Over Meals.”

SoulSeed is organized by Vanessa Marr, a self-described “plant-powered queer woman of color who loves breaking bread with new and old friends through teaching.” After earning her Ph.D. in communication studies, serving as a K-12 and college educator, and volunteering at various urban farms, she is developing SoulSeed as a holistic learning community.

Awesome Foundation grant funds will be used to print handouts, obtain cooking equipment, and provide ingredients for groups of 8-20 people per session. Since the workshops are hands-on, reusable bags with additional resources such as recipes, food pantry tips, and measuring spoon sets would help continue the lessons. The goal is for participants to not only practice healthy eating at home, but also to share their learning experiences with others.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

 

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds Shakespeare in Prison program

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Shakespeare in Prison (SIP) on May 6, 2018.

SIP, Detroit Public Theatre’s signature community program, uses Shakespeare to empower incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. The program has been at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) for six years, and recently completed its first year at Parnall Correctional Facility, a men’s prison in Jackson.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Frannie Shepherd-Bates of Shakespeare in Prison with her $1,000 mini-grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Frannie Shepherd-Bates of Shakespeare in Prison with her $1,000 mini-grant.

The WHV ensemble works for nine months, rehearsing a Shakespeare play and performing it at season’s end. A second 12-week workshop is now underway at Parnall, and this fall the Parnall program will expand to utilize a similar 40-week model.

Incarceration often makes prisoners feel disempowered, worthless, or stupid, shells of who they once were or could have been. The SIP experience profoundly alters this, giving prisoners comrades and a safe space where their ideas are valued and they can improve communication. The values and skills learned in SIP help ensemble members constructively reintegrate into society, making them less likely to re-offend. Those still in prison use what they’ve learned not only for their own benefit, but to positively affect their community.

Awesome Foundation grant funds will be used to cover expenses for the SIP men’s program. Facilitators have been volunteering their services for the program out of pure passion. They will now be able to fund a summer workshop, maintaining momentum that will help the men’s program get more buy-in as it continues to develop.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds youth-driven creative agency

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to the Ypsilanti-based youth-driven creative agency Ward 1 Productions on April 9, 2018.

Ward 1 Productions’ mission is to teach youth marketable skills in the new creative economy. The agency produces videos and other media content while also teaching youth leadership and job skills through a project-based training program called the Ward 1 Productions System. The system teaches project management, budgeting, documentary writing, storyboarding, interviewing for film, videography, lighting, sound and staging, editing, social media management, and event planning.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Ward 1 Productions representatives with their $1,000 mini-grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Ward 1 Productions representatives with their $1,000 mini-grant.

Ward 1 Productions is a team of adult and youth coaches who believe stories from seldom-heard communities have particular and extraordinary power and that the best stories come from within the story’s own community. The agency is based in Ypsilanti’s Ward 1, the traditionally African-American voting district in the heart of town. Ward 1 Productions is supported in part by MichiganWorks! job training programs and the agency’s partners and customers.

Ward 1 Productions currently borrows most of its video production equipment and has been particularly challenged to get quality audio sound. Awesome Foundation grant funds will be used to purchase an audio kit including lavalier mics, a recorder, a boom stand, headphones, a softie windscreen, a handheld mic, a shotgun mic, and a slate.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

 

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds Flint community garden founded by U-M football players

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Team Gardens on March 4, 2018 to fund its community garden in Flint.

The Flint #Eating Garden is one of multiple community gardens operated by Team Gardens. Team Gardens was founded by former University of Michigan (U-M) football stars Vincent Smith and Martavious Odoms and U-M grad Sonya Sutherland. Odoms and Smith started their first community garden in their hometown of Pahokee, Florida as a way to give back to their community.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundations trustees present Vincent Smith and Sonya Sutherland with their $1,000 grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Vincent Smith and Sonya Sutherland with their $1,000 grant.

From there, Sutherland and Smith quickly shifted their focus to found a community garden to serve an under-resourced population in Michigan. With the help of other former U-M football players, Team Gardens made the decision to start its newest garden in Flint. The #Eating Garden now occupies five city lots. Team Gardens is currently remediating the soil to grow plants, removing invasive species, and maintaining the area. The team has already created raised bed areas to grow vegetables, focusing on crops that have low water needs.

Awesome Foundation grant funds will be used to purchase a variety of supplies for the #Eating demonstration garden and health and nutrition education outreach. The garden’s goal is to get residents active outdoors.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

 

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds Black Men Read program

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Black Men Read on March 4, 2018.

Black Men Read was founded by two Black mothers and Ypsi residents, Yodit Mesfin Johnson and Tamara Ibarisha. Drawing on their professional and lived experiences, these women saw a need for a literacy program that centered their cultural experiences and history in the stories their children heard. They set out to normalize the historical and cultural contributions of Black people through stories while uplifting and countering the narrative that Black men don’t engage in their families or communities.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Yodit Mesfin Johnson with her $1,000 grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Yodit Mesfin Johnson with her $1,000 grant.

Black Men Read took shape during Black History Month in 2016 when Johnson and Ibarisha activated their networks and set out to host reading events for children on Saturday mornings, with Black men reading to the children in attendance. The women believe that the stories told are important and essential so that students can “see” themselves in the stories that are read to them. They believe this is key to all children’s cultural awareness and development.

Building on the program’s success, Black Men Read’s founders are now joining with fellow Mitchell Elementary School parent Cathleen Haglund to offer the program to Mitchell students beginning in January 2018. Awesome Foundation funds will be used to provide small stipends to readers, and healthy snacks and books to hand out to children who attend Black Men Read events.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

 

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds Ypsilanti step dance team

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded its monthly $1,000 mini-grant to the Learnt Ones Foundation on January 7, 2018 to fund an all-male drama and step dance team in Ypsilanti.

Awesome Foundation trustees present members of the Learnt Ones Foundation and T.H.E. C.R.E.A.M. with their $1,000 mini-grant.

Awesome Foundation trustees present members of the Learnt Ones Foundation and T.H.E. C.R.E.A.M. with their $1,000 mini-grant.

The Learnt Ones Foundation, an organization promoting the moral and spiritual edification of young men in urban environments, will sponsor an auxiliary step and drama group named T.H.E. C.R.E.A.M. This auxiliary group will target at-risk males in the Ypsilanti community and empower them to make positive life choices that enable them to maximize their potential. Participants will perform at various events throughout their community, in the hope that other young men will be inspired to join the group. Awesome Foundation funds will go towards the purchase of team uniforms and shoes.

Through collaborative programming with schools and other community-based organizations, the Learnt Ones Foundation also provides educational, social, and mentoring opportunities to enhance academic performance, community connections, and career options for young men ages 8 to 17. The Learnt Ones was founded by Ypsilanti resident Tru Ajani, a public speaker, author, and minister dedicated to improving the lives of young men in his community.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds project to turn school bus into sustainable living space

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded its monthly $1,000 mini-grant to University of Michigan senior Tori Essex on December 3, 2017 to fund her efforts to turn a school bus into a sustainable living space.

Essex, a student in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, plans to use the finished bus to convey themes of sustainability and living a creative lifestyle. She will drive the bus to volunteer with farms and nonprofits both in Ann Arbor and across the United States, inspired by her experience volunteering on an organic farm in Ireland last summer. The bus will have a formal audience at the 2018 Stamps Senior Show in April and an informal audience on the road. Instead of making work about sustainability and a creative lifestyle, Essex intends the bus to be a creative work that embodies those themes while serving a utility.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Tori Essex with her $1,000 mini-grant.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Tori Essex with her $1,000 mini-grant.

Essex has already purchased a bus at auction, and is currently in the process of renovating its interior. The finished bus will contain custom-built furnishings such as benches with built-in storage, fold-away tables, bookcases, a bed, a sink, a composting toilet, and a booth made out of bus seats. The exterior will have a space for an outdoor shower head and curtain, and a platform on the roof. Essex will source as much material as possible from recycle and reuse centers, scrap material, and free material. She expects to learn the most from her hands-on design and building process.

Essex’s Awesome Foundation grant funds will go toward the $5,000 overall budget for her project. Since the bus has already been purchased, grant funds will go primarily towards purchasing scrap and recycled materials to renovate and furnish the bus. More information and updates on the project can be found at Essex’s blog.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds DJing workshop for women

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded one of two $1,000 mini-grants to Seraphine Collective on November 5, 2017 to fund the collective’s Beat Match Brunch program for female and female-identifying DJs.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Sophia Softky of Seraphine Collective with their grant funds.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Sophia Softky of Seraphine Collective with their grant funds.

DJ culture, in Detroit and elsewhere, is male-dominated: VICE magazine reports that women make up under 10 percent of all DJs at music festivals. There is also a high barrier to entry — the cost of equipment can be prohibitive, and as beginners, women are less likely to have access to technical mentorship, practice space, and booking opportunities. In April 2016, Seraphine Collective, a Detroit community of feminists supporting marginalized Detroit artists, rose to this challenge. The collective launched its first workshop series, Beat Match Brunch, a month-long introduction to the fundamentals of the art form for aspiring female-identified DJs. The first workshop, facilitated by Detroit DJ Mother Cyborg, was so popular that about half of the applicants had to be turned away.

Eight women with diverse musical tastes and cultural backgrounds learned how to use turntables; handle, select and “read” vinyl records; isolate sounds; and use beats per minute to beat-match, all in a supportive and collaborative environment. After completing the workshop, several of the DJs have continued to independently borrow equipment, organize practice sessions, and perform at dozens of events around town.

Seraphine Collective hosted its next round of workshops, for 12 people this time, in September 2017. Additionally, the collective hopes that the Beat Match Brunch program will become self-sustaining, with graduates teaching later generations and performing at fundraising events.

Awesome Foundation funds will be used to purchase industry-standard equipment, rent practice space, compensate facilitators, and build a record library for collective use. Seraphine Collective’s first priority is to purchase at least one more set of secondhand Technics 1200 turntables, and purchase a collection of practice records. With funding from the Awesome Foundation, the collective will be able to continue opening up the dance floor as a transformative organizing space for women often marginalized by technology and media.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.